The Chinese spy balloon story is not without its mysteries.
You could interpret events as an aggressive and brazen act by a power determined to maintain a competitive edge.
On the other hand, there is evidence that China has a commitment to improving relations with the US or at the very least, preventing further deterioration. The official response of the foreign ministry was more direct and polite than others.
This incident , and its timing just days before US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was to arrive in Beijing seems like a strange contradiction to China’s efforts and work.
This visit would not have been possible without a lot of diplomatic effort from both sides. President Xi Jinping acknowledged last year at the G20 summit the need for China and the US to do more to prevent their competition from escalating into conflict.
It was a sign that China was serious about this process, as it was suggested that Mr. Blinken was to meet Mr. Xi. The last-minute compromise of the visit will not have helped a relationship already plagued by mistrust.
So why is this? What could China gain that is greater than the diplomatic costs?
Experts in this type of balloon technology have offered their opinions. They argue that China will not benefit from the intelligence gained.
Most of the targets that are suspected to be being targeted are likely already being monitored by spy satellites.
These balloons can linger longer than others in certain areas. However, experts warn that the wind currents these balloons depend upon for steering are unpredictable at this time of year and it is unlikely they will be able hover directly above their target.
Other sources have suggested that the Chinese would have known that such a balloon would have been detected. This is due to the extensive US surveillance of the country’s airspace.
Chinese spy balloons explained
What if intel potential is not enough?
It is possible that it is due to a failed experiment or a failure in the self-termination system.
It could have been an accident, but it happened.
Perhaps it was an attempt to intimidate and provoke, or to embarrass America – perhaps by how easily its airspace had been entered. Some members of Congress speculated that it was sent to America to test its response capabilities, or to convey a message about China’s surveillance technology being comparable to its competitor.
It is clear that surveillance and espionage are serious and common realities, even though this incident is more prominent and well-publicized.
Christopher Wray , FBI director, has called China a “game-changing threat”. He stated that the biggest threat to US intellectual property and information was China’s counterintelligence and economic espionage threats in 2020.
The FBI estimates that it opened a new Chinese counterintelligence operation approximately every 12 hours last October.
China’s international actions and words have become more aggressive and unapologetic under Mr Xi. It is possible that China has become less interested in repairing its relations than it once seemed.
It is important to remember that America also engages in surveillance. Both sides are well aware of spy satellites that track the other.
The fledgling efforts to end the bitterness between the two may prove to be fruitful. Officials in the USA insist that communication channels are open and that Mr. Blinken’s visit has been postponed.
These relations were already complex and required balancing acts. Even before the incident, any breakthrough was considered unlikely. The chances of achieving a breakthrough now seem even more remote.